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Pay attention.

It’s dark in the tunnel. Not regular dark, but soul-sucking black.

Except for the small dot of light in the distance. Bright, so bright. It’s tiny, but as powerful as a primordial deity. The pinprick of anti-darkness grows. The tunnel disappears. Or, more accurately, the subjective feel of the tunnel disappears. Qualia dissipate, dissolve. There is only empty blackness and a voracious light.

Light conquers dark.


Pay attention.

“Don’t do it, dad.” Someone holds your hand. Parchment skin stretches across brittle bones. “They just want your money. It’s quackery.”

Your hand twitches. Your voice is a desert, its timbre is the grating of sand grains. “You want my money then?” Joke and reproach combined. You know the deteriorating body is yours. You know the man is your son.

“Of course not,” your son says. You’re almost certain his name is Max.

You can feel that he speaks the truth. You return your hand to the soft linen of the care unit’s bed sheet. You’re wealthy enough to have a private health suite in your mansion. “Then the math is clear,” you say. “Hundred percent chance of death versus any chance – however small – of not dying. Obvious choice.”

You see Paul’s cheeks clench. He is a good man. Too good for this world, for your world. “This is not some kind of stock you can analyze.” You hear the defeat in his voice. The rest of his words are just for show. “This is life or death. Whatever decision you make, it’s going to kill you. Can’t you… can’t you wait?”

You sigh. Every breath is a sigh nowadays. “Life, death. Things used to be so simple. Not anymore. I won’t wait. You need to be alive to beat death.”

Pay attention.

But it’s complicated and confusing. You’re no physicist. You grasp the intuitive idea of quantum tunneling, but as soon as the company representative starts with the equations, your mind decides it has had enough.  

“Life and death are simply different energy states of a system,” the guy – shiny black hair and pearly whites – explains. He’s probably trained to whiz through the equations and dazzle potential customers. “The problem is that there is an unsurmountable barrier between these states. Or at least a barrier that seemed unsurmountable. Until now. Until NeverDeath.”

You grumble. “Enough with the sales talk. I’ve had my people look over it, I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis. Wheel me in and let’s get going.” Death is a dungeon with unscalable walls. So why not just smash through the walls?

The guy, groomed to be the epitome of the slick salesman, is unable to stop his smile from spreading beyond the permanently engraved generic one. Probably a big bonus waiting for the quick sale.

Pay attention.

Because this is weird stuff.

You’re alive and not-alive, dead and not-dead. Forget cats. You’re Schrödinger’s man.

It feels as though the whole universe is switching on and off in rapid succession. There is pain and there is no pain. Awareness and non-awareness.

You’re in a tunnel. A quantum tunnel pushing through the barrier between life and death. It doesn’t really feel like a tunnel. It doesn’t really feel like anything, unlike you. You feel like everything. Supreme solipsism in the face of subjective dissolution.

All feeling flees.

You dissolve.

The hungry light swallows you.

Pay attention.

“Don’t do it, dad.”

You remember. Not in its entirety, but enough to put one and one together into something like a superposition. Your son, your failing body, your impending death.

You try to push yourself up, but your aching frame and the hands of your son conspire to keep you locked in the embrace of the silky smooth bed that feels like a casket.

Something must’ve gone wrong.

“Calm down, dad.”

Annoyed, you wave away your son’s concern. You need to focus.

Maybe you bounced off death’s wall. Maybe you tunneled through but came out the same end. This won’t do. You don’t want a rewind button. You want a reset one.

Only one option.

Try again.

But this time, pay attention.

About the Author: 
Gunnar De Winter is a biologist/philosopher hybrid who explores ideas through fictional fieldwork. Some of his stories have found their way to, among others, Amazing Stories, Abyss & Apex, Daily Science Fiction, and various anthologies.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

T is for ...

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

R is for ...

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

G is for ...

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

G is for ...

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K is for ...

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D is for ...

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I is for ...

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

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H is for ...
Hidden Variables

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Q is for ...

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

T is for ...

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W is for ...

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I is for ...

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N is for ...

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H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

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X is for ...

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U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

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C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

E is for ...

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

K is for ...

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

S is for ...

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

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S is for ...

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F is for ...
Free Will

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D is for ...

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

E is for ...

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 


M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

P is for ...

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

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M is for ...

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R is for ...

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Q is for ...
Quantum States

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B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

U is for ...

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

C is for ...

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

T is for ...
Time travel

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A is for ...
Act of observation

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Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

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C is for ...

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J is for ...
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Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

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O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

A is for ...

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

L is for ...

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

V is for ...
Virtual particles

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P is for ...
Planck's Constant

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M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

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